Tell us a little bit about Ellie Stickland, what made you take the leap into the world of jewellery?
I wouldn’t call it so much as a leap; my career has been a very natural process. I studied an art foundation at City College Brighton and the beauty of a foundation course is you try everything and work to your strengths.
Jewellery was an obvious choice because I work three-dimensionally and think small, so architecture was out of the question! I was very lucky to get into Central Saint Martins to study jewellery design and I genuinely feel like it was my calling in life, I literally couldn’t do anything else.
Ellie Stickland is about people, it's about creating beautiful and well-crafted Fine Jewellery inspired by things that are important to my clients. I separated my client work from my name so I can be more creative and experimental with my painting, sculpture and enamel painting.
Would you be able to tell us a little about your process? How do you move from an idea on paper to the finished product? What steps do you take along your journey?
I should note I’m a designer and I don’t make my pieces. It’s a common misconception with my work. I specialise in the design and employ expert craftsmen to make my pieces to my high standards.
An architect doesn’t design and then build it all – each part of the process is a skill in itself and, to do a design justice, it needs the right person to make it, and I promise you it’s not me!
I learnt to make jewellery when I was at Central Saint Martins and I was okay at it, I understand the process of making and that makes me an excellent designer but I would never be able to make my designs to the standard I would want.
Each design, on average, goes through about 6 craftsmen to be made – each of these focuses on one skill. The mounter makes the piece, the setter sets, the polisher polishes, etc. – they are all master craftsman and none of them could be as good at their skill if they did it all.
As for my favourite process, it’s the developing of a design as the client is beginning to fall in love with it, that natural progression from ideas to a final design.
My process varies depending on what I’m working on – but to start with, I ask my clients to give me as much information about themselves; my job is to understand them and communicate that into a design. I’ll ask them to send me photos of their partner and their jewellery box, anything they feel summarises their taste or style. The design process from there is my translation of them, what suits them and their lifestyle, their personality or them as a couple, whether beautiful stones and simplicity are important or conceptual and unique design.
It's a rather unique kind of design process – when did you decide you would take such heavy inspiration from the couple you are designing for?
It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was a natural part of the way I started my business. Fine jewellery is expensive to produce, so making lots of samples and collections wasn’t ever going to be something I could do.
I started my business with no money, so designing for people was the only way I could do it – but then these bespoke experiences became what defined me. It was that understanding of people that made my work come into its own. What initially felt like a frustrating part of entering a high-cost industry suddenly made my work unique because I was forced to think outside of the box, look at things differently and work to my strengths.
It'll be hard to pick just one, but what has been the most amazing story or piece of jewellery that you've worked with?
Yeah, you’re very right it is hard to pick!
There are a few that have really touched me but for different reasons. Sentimentally, the ring I love the most is a ring I designed for a lady who was celebrating 5 years clear of cancer, we called it ‘Roots of life’.
A really challenging and unique brief was the engagement ring I designed around the Great Wall of China and the part of the wall they got engaged on.
Creatively, it would be the ring I simply called ‘The Creative’, a unique and completely ‘out there’ engagement ring for a couple I went to school with who are the most creative people I know. That was such a pleasure because they gave me the freedom and trust to make something completely different from your average engagement ring.
You recently sketched a ring that was inspired by lace, which you photographed on your Instagram – it was so delicate and beautiful. How do you take inspiration from subjects such as this? And how do you try and get yourself into a creative mindset?
Inspiration is easy. It’s all around you... you just need to look.
Look closely at the details and pull them apart – look through a magnifying glass and actually see the shapes and lines. Often what I do with something like that is place those details into a framework of successful proven designs and re-invent them by giving them unique details like this, I then have them crafted beautifully.
Getting into the creative mindset can be difficult when you’re busy and time is minimal – it needs to be nurtured not only with time but with space too.
I often find one of the best ways for me to get creative is to put music on and just start drawing or painting something. I also get especially creative after a client meeting – I usually come away bursting with ideas.
People inspire me, which is what makes jewellery such a natural fit. Another favourite way of getting creative is heading to art galleries or reading about other artists and their creative inspirations and processes.
Who have been your role models, both in jewellery design and building a business, in your startup stories?
The definition of role model is ‘a person looked to by others as an example, to be imitated.’ I prefer to admire or be inspired by what others do and forge my own path in my unique way, drawing on what others have done but hopefully doing it better. I also believe we shouldn’t glorify individuals, we should be celebrating teams and groups of people because no one does anything entirely alone. I work for myself but I couldn’t do what I do without the amazing people that make my pieces.
The business’s I admire would be the likes of Lush, Aardman studios and John Lewis – all companies that are employee owned and strive towards building a better future. I’m working towards sustainable business practices in my own business. In the future, I would like Ellie Stickland to be employee owned and/or be able to re-invest profits into education and the environment.
But, hand on heart, the people I admire the most are the people behind the bright lights, not the people in front of them.
I admire the teachers trying to change things and set a great example for future generations – teachers like my friends Sara, Claire and another Sarah. These three people are beyond inspirational in what they do and I have direct experience working with each of them and know what they’re doing is amazing.
My friend Andy is an illustrator and one of the most talented people I know – he’s never settled for anything but doing what he loves; it hasn’t been easy, but time has slowly proved that being able to do what you love is possible, it just takes passion, drive and initiative to do.
Since the start of your journey, what has been the most valuable piece of legal advice you've received?
My business is B2C and I work very closely with my customers. Customer service is at the heart of my business, and communication throughout is key. As a result of this, I have, touch wood, not needed legal advice within my business. I’m sure as I grow and start to change the way my business operates, I will need to take legal advice at some point!
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
I have so much advice..! There are a couple of key things which I think are really important to note. Starting a business is a long process which takes time, passion and dedication. Don’t ever think it will be easy or quick. Remember that although you love it now and have a huge passion for it, after long stressful nights be prepared to hate it at times or even fall out of love. Be prepared for every eventuality and don’t lose sight of what is really important in life.
Also setting up in business is expensive, you’ll either need personal investment or loans to get started, so do whatever you can to keep another income whilst growing your business, whatever that may be. It will really help you whilst you're developing your product and getting those early sales. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position and sacrifice your personal health.
Lastly, what do you think the future holds for Ellie Stickland?
The future is exciting, Ellie Stickland is part of my life’s work and it will forever evolve. Right now, I’m enjoying where it is and where I’m at personally in life. I’m writing my first book, which will definitely shape the next phase of Ellie Stickland. I’m passionate about quality design and craftsmanship and I hope I’ll be here for a long time to come, growing the business.
Thank you so much, Ellie, for taking the time to let us interview you! It's been so wonderful getting an insight into your incredible business and founder story.